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TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2019 4:22 pm
by Stanley Otter
I wanted to hike in the Cascades and I wanted to see how I would fare hiking over a long period of time, so I did what the cool kids on the PCT these days call a LASH — Long-Ass Section Hike — of the PCT in Washington. Prior to picking up the PCT near the Canadian border, I spent ten days in North Cascades National Park & the Pasayten Wilderness. Some distance south, I left the PCT to hike the Wonderland Trail, and I finished with a hike almost all the way around Mt Adams. It ended up being 701 miles over a period of about seven weeks.

This was not the summer to do this hike. I spent the middle weeks of June with my family in Olympic National Park, Seattle & Vancouver and it was all sunny skies, light winds and moderate temperatures. They dropped me off at the Hannegan Pass Trailhead on June 22, which is now known as The Day The Weather Pattern Changed. The next four or five weeks were quite wet and dreary. Despite missed views and periods of low spirits, I managed to carry on, met some wonderful people, and learned a thing or three about myself. Herewith, a brief account of some highlights and observations.

North Cascades National Park & Pasayten Wilderness
June 22-July 2
I had made a reservation using the lottery system in the spring and one of the back country rangers had talked me out of my desired itinerary because my start date was early by historical standards. As it happened, it was a below average snow year so I stopped at the interagency station in Glacier for a walkup permit to change my starting point back to Hannegan Pass, then east to Whatcom and Beaver Passes, followed by a turn to the south to Ross Lake Resort for my first resupply.

June 22: Overcast and drizzly with a low cloud deck but so very green, and lots of wildflowers in bloom on the 2000’ climb to Hannegan Pass which was snow-free (and also view-free). Encountered the first dozen or so of what were to be hundreds of downed trees in the trail on the east side of the pass. Also encountered my first bear about 150’ ahead of me on the trail. “Hey, bear!” It worked its way around me off trail and continued up toward the pass. Rowdy college boys at the western Copper Creek site, so I took the east site and did my best to ignore the idiot who howled a lot. Just 7.5 miles.

June 23: Many more downed trees on the way to the U.S. Cabin site where I ate Second Breakfast. Coming back out onto the main trail another bear and I surprised each other at 20’. Oh my, I detect a pattern. Turns out I would not see another for weeks. Pulling myself across the Chilliwack River on the cable car was good, clean fun. Supplies had been laid in for installing a new one later in the season. Trail to Indian Creek overgrown to shoulder height in places, but the sites were very nice. Clear skies spied through the canopy high overhead in the late afternoon. Another light day at 7.1 miles.

June 24: Rained overnight so got a good soaking retracing my brushy steps back to the Brush Creek Trail and on up 2800’ to Whatcom Pass. The trail west of Graybeal was like a steeplechase — there were spots where I had to step over logs while ducking under others, all the while walking through water. The weather was starting to clear, so had some partial views of glaciers on Whatcom Peak and Easy Ridge on the way up, and Challenger Glacier on the way down to Little Beaver Creek and the Twin Rocks camps. The steep-sided valleys are visually quite striking. Pack is pretty heavy with microspikes, whippet pole, and extra cold weather clothing for the what-ifs that lay ahead. Worked my way up to 11.4 miles today.

June 25: No real views to speak of going over Beaver Pass which is quite low at 3600’. Got caught out in a thunderstorm and downpour for the final mile into Luna camp. At one point in the planning stages of this trip, I thought a little off-trail side trip into the Luna Creek drainage looked inviting. I know people have done this, but having seen the terrain I don’t know how. Note to self: the Cascades are different than the Sierra. 11.8 miles.

June 26: Another section of long green tunnel all the way down to Ross Lake. Met a trail clearing crew on their way up for an eight day stint near Beaver Pass. Ross Lake was a dismal sight with record low water levels exposing a stump-dotted bathtub ring around the reservoir. Apparently, this was due to a combination of low snowfall and required outflows for power generation and fish spawning. Ugly as hell but with nice views of Jack Mountain. Dried some gear in the sun and ducked into the Pumpkin Mountain site right before the next storms rolled through. 9.5 miles, mostly downhill.

June 27: This morning, with the cloud deck at about 4000’ and rain forecast for the whole day, I decided to bail on hiking up to my reserved site at Pierce Mountain. My initial plan was to head to Diablo for some real food, some beer, and a front-country site. A day-hiking couple familiar with the area informed me I was sadly mistaken about the available amenities. Well…poop. So instead I picked up my resupply package at Ross Lake Resort, crossed Ross Dam, and headed out along the Ruby Arm of Ross Lake on the Happy Panther Trail cussing the weather the whole way. I pitched my tent in the rain just across the park boundary on the banks of Ruby Creek. The rushing water was loud enough to mask the noise of traffic on the North Cascades Hwy 20 just across the creek. Overall a really crummy day. 13 miles, mostly flat.

01 Nooksack Ridge.jpg
02 Copper Creek.jpg
03 Bear Number Two.jpg
04 Cable Car.jpg
05 Ridge Above Little Beaver.jpg
06 Challenger Glacier.jpg
07 Mt Challenger.jpg
08 Trail.jpg
09 Storms Over Ross Lake.jpg
10 Jack Mountain.jpg
11 Pierce Creek.jpg
12 Ross Lake Resort & Ross Dam.jpg

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2019 5:32 pm
by rlown
Nice report and pics.
I love any TR that ends with an haiku. :)

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2019 9:08 pm
by Stanley Otter
rlown: Thanks! I saw that haiku in an exhibit at the Portland Japanese Garden in Summer 2018, another of my favorite places to visit in the west. In fact, I went there for a day when I finished this hike. Here's the next installment...

June 28: The goal for the next few days was to hike the eastern and northern portions of the Devils Dome Loop, and then hike north along Ross Lake to the Three Fools Trail which I would take to Castle Pass and the PCT, only three miles from the northern terminus. My next resupply would be in Stehekin on Lake Chelan in ten or eleven days, so my pack was quite heavy with the extra food. Which explains my misery scrambling around huge trees fallen across the trail and climbing 3600’ and 65 switchbacks to McMillan Park and then another 800’ to Devils Park. Oof. Wet and cold up at 5900’ with no views to speak of due to clouds and rain. About 9 miles.

June 29: Finally have some sun peeking through with good views of Crater Mountain and Jack Mountain. Glad to have my microspikes and whippet pole along on steep frozen snowfields on some of the northern slopes. I wouldn’t need them again and sent them home from Stehekin. Several steep climbs eventually led to Jackita Ridge and a spring where I gathered several liters of water for my dry camp on a ridge below Devils Dome. Spent some time drying out and warming up in the sun. About 12 miles.

June 30: Beautiful morning sun on Crater Mountain and Jack Mountain with excellent views from Devils Dome. A welcome change, which made the 5000’ descent back down to Ross Lake all the more mentally difficult, not to mention the toll on the ol’ knees. The water from Ross Lake had an awful taste, so I pressed on to the Deer Lick site in the northeast corner of North Cascades National Park. I set up camp as the next wave of thunderstorms rolled through. I learned later that this was the storm that started a mountaintop fire not too far from where I was camped. I would have thought the drenching rains of the next three or four hours would have doused it, but I’d have been wrong. Approximately 16.5 miles.

July 1: The Three Fools Trail (or Boundary Trail) is one of those seldom-maintained trails, although it had been given some much-needed attention back in 2017. But still… I tanked up on three liters of water at the Little Fish Shelter site on Three Fools Creek and then started the brutal haul up the southeastern slope of Peak 6128 (just east of Skagit Peak). It’s about as bad as the topo suggests — short, steep switchbacks at obtuse angles between each other with no landings between segments, if you can envision that geometry. And me overloaded and still out of shape. Thirty-six hundred vertical feet later on the ridge line above Elbow Basin it sure seems worthwhile given the views. I met a NOLS group a bit further on and chatted with them for a bit while I recovered. I camped on the saddle between Elbow Creek and Big Face Creek near a settling basin somebody had dug below one of the last remaining snowbanks. Would be dry in less than a week, I’d bet. Maybe 7 miles, not really sure.

July 2: Clouded up overnight, natch. On my way down a steep slope into the Big Face Creek drainage I slipped and fell on my butt, bending a pole pretty good in the process. After straightening it as much as I dared for fear of breaking it, I headed further down and quickly came to appreciate the challenge of trail-finding in the Pacific Northwest. This is the section all the trail descriptions I read called out as the most difficult to follow, and with good reason — chest high brush, cannot see your feet, and a trail that is only notional for long stretches. You can see the next ridge that is your goal, but it’s the next fifty yards that is really problematic. Near the creek crossing I stumbled at one of those places where I was hiking by braille and hurt the ankle I broke in the Grand Canyon back in March. A real zinger and I thought it was all over for a while. Beyond Big Face Creek the trail improved significantly and it was a simple matter of climbing 1200’ up to the ridge and then continuing on to Castle Pass where a veritable village of PCTers was camped. I scampered seven miles round trip to touch the northern terminus of the PCT and ready myself for the trek south. Rain and thunderstorms overnight. About 13 miles.

01 Devils Park.jpg
02 Crater Mountain.jpg
03 Jackita Ridge.jpg
04 Crater Mountain.jpg
05 Devils Dome.jpg
06 Jack Mountain.jpg
07 Crater & Jack Mtns.jpg
08 Freezeout Lake.jpg
09 Three Fools Peak & Cascade Crest.jpg
10 Big Face Creek Drainage.jpg
11 Joker Mountain.jpg
12 PCT Northern Terminus.jpg

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 1:01 am
by wildhiker
Quite an epic hike so far! The only time I ever backpacked in the North Cascades was in the second week of August, 1978. We planned an 8 day loop trip in the Pasayten Wilderness because it was on the "drier east side". Hiked two days in, and then gave up and hiked two days back on the same trail. Low clouds covered all the mountains all the time and drizzled on and off all day and night. We saw nothing and got wet. Too much for this California kid. Your trip so far is pretty wet, but you had some sun and views. Good for you!

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 9:00 am
by Wandering Daisy
Great trip report! You did get enough sunshine for those stunning photos! I grew up in the PNW. One winter in Seattle it rained 90 days straight. However, all the greenery made the rainy days less depressing. We would drive over the pass and be above the clouds in sunshine and then climb on the eastern dry side. As weekend warriors, we would start every trip, drive to the trailhead and walk into base camp in rain, hoping that at the 2AM alpine start the weather would be clear. If not we retreated. Although drizzly, the PNW rarely gets the fierce afternoon storms like the Rockies (which are actually easier to deal with because you simply hike/climb while sunny and are in camp by the time the storms hit.)

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 8:44 pm
by Stanley Otter
Phil: I feel your pain, lo these 40 years later. In hindsight I am grateful for the sun I did get, but at the time I was pretty downhearted at the missed views and being wet a lot of the time. As you point out, the *low* clouds were a real killer. Overcast with a high cloud deck is one thing, but hiking through the clouds is a whole other experience. Spoiled by the Sierra for sure.

WD: I didn't know you were a native of the Pacific North*wet* as I learned to call it from other local folks -- thanks for sharing that. Another thing I got schooled on was to say that the June-uary wet spell had lasted well beyond its usual duration. It's a funny perspective thing -- on a number of occasions I met local day hikers who'd say something along the lines of "Hi! Great day" under what I considered dreary, overcast conditions. I once challenged a college-age couple on this and they quickly pointed out to me that I just need to recalibrate my expectations -- at least it wasn't raining right then! I would love to live locally for a few years so I could grab opportunities to revisit the Glacier Peak and Alpine Lakes Wildernesses where I missed quite a bit due to weather.


PCT: Castle Pass to Stehekin
July 3-9
For the next several weeks I spent quite a bit of time interacting with various species of PCT thru-hikers. As we all know, Winter 2018-19 was a big snow year in the Sierra, so there were a lot more people than usual at this time of year hiking southbound on the PCT in Washington. Many of them had “flipped” north from the southern Sierra, and I joined them pretty close to the middle of the bubble. Of course, as an old fart on relatively unseasoned legs, I gradually made my way to the tail of the distribution since I was plugging away at about 15 miles per day while the young ‘uns were throwing down “twenties” or more. On the other hand, I was packing a lot of food and didn’t leave the trail every five days for the temptations of town and a potential zero day (or two). So I tended to oscillate with respect to a temporally and spatially extended group of hikers, and toward the end I became a peripheral member of a “tramily” which was a new experience for me. I enjoyed it.

At this point, I also started using the trail name bestowed on me by my oldest daughter who was unhappy that I had stopped shaving back in May. By the time of our mid-June family trip to the Pacific Northwest I was pretty scraggly looking, and on a nature trail in the Hoh River Rainforest in Olympic National Park she read the phrase “luscious beard-like growths” on an interpretive sign describing clubmoss. Instant ironic trail name — Clubmoss I became.

I found this section of the PCT remote and beautiful when I could see it. Much of it is in the Pasayten Wilderness and North Cascades National Park, so the impacts of roads and power lines are minimized. Other than the tent village at Castle Pass I didn’t encounter particularly high concentrations of people camped in one location. The thirty miles or so south of Canada were relatively busy-seeming because a lot of people join the PCT at Harts Pass and hike north to the terminus at the border and then head back south, resulting in lots of two-way traffic. South of Harts Pass almost everyone was going in the same direction and I could actually hike for some hours between encounters.

July 3: They don’t call it the long white tunnel for nothing. Hiking through cloud for the first half of the day, and then clearing at midday for Shull Mountain, Powder Mountain and Holman Peak near Rock Pass. Then a dive back into the woods. 16 miles.

July 4: Overcast all day, but no rain. Highlight of the day was meeting a retired chemical engineering couple originally from Seattle who settled in Mazama and were on a day hike. They had participated in ABET (the agency formerly known as Accrediting Board of Engineering & Technology) accreditation visits back in the day, so I shared the fact that I was on this long walkabout in part because the new engineering technology program I had helped build over the last seven years was up for accreditation this summer. The preparation for that had sucked all the vital energy and juices out of my system and I was out seeking replenishment and forgetfulness of all that had come before. Nice people. 18 miles.

July 5: Some early morning sun with nice views from the ridge above Glacier Pass of Azurite Peak and Mt Ballard. Clouded up for the 2200’ descent to Brush Creek and 2200’ ascent to Methow Pass. Distinctly different rock type on the south side of the pass. Camped below Tower Mountain with several other groups. Rained off and on all afternoon and evening. 14 miles.

July 6: Slept in to allow fog to dissipate a bit before crossing Granite Pass and Cutthroat Pass. So sunny I used my sunglasses for the first time all trip — a whole hour or so, heady stuff. Camped just outside North Cascade National Park boundary at State Creek where I met one of the park botanists who was finishing up a personal hiking trip. She was concerned about potential stock impacts on the fragile meadows up at McAlester Lake. We talked flowers for a bit. 12 miles.

July 7: I elected to go over McAlester Pass rather than follow the PCT along Bridge Creek and the Stehekin River. Part of my reasoning was that I wasn’t sure I could meet the last bus at High Bridge into Stehekin on time, and this way I didn’t need to worry about it because the trail would dump me just a couple miles from town. This came at the cost of a nicely graded (and cleared!) 2200’ climb and a few extra miles of hiking. I found the meadows at McAlester Lake untrammeled, but I am no expert. There was a bit of wind hiking through the Rainbow Bridge Fire area and a couple limbs fell as I descended the knee-busting 5000’ to the Stehekin Road. Fortunately, I made it to the famous Bakery before it closed for a well-deserved roast beef sandwich and a carrot cake muffin as big as my head. Sweet (pun intended)! Even better, I made it to the Golden West Visitor Center in time to get a camp site and then a couple beers from the store. 19 miles.

July 8: Zero day! Collected my resupply package and sent a package home with four pounds of stuff I didn’t need anymore. Laundry. Checked into North Cascades Lodge and took a shower — I hadn’t bathed properly in sixteen days – ‘nuf said. Word on the street was that the restaurant was way overpriced for what you got, so I supplemented trail food with some yummy sardines from the store. The flippers had been through like a swarm of locusts and supplies were low and options few. Plenty of beer, though, so all was well.

July 9: Day hiked up the McGregor Mountain Trail. Took the first shuttle bus of the morning to the trailhead and went all out all day long for the 6000’ climb and return. Made it back in time for the final shuttle bus back to Stehekin with fifteen minutes to spare. Whew! Great views with a bit of scrambling at the top to remind me of off-trail in the Sierra. Met a rattlesnake on the trail — my first — no photo, too scared. 15 miles.

01 Somewhere on the PCT.jpg
02 Hopkins Lake.jpg
03 Holman Peak & Rock Pass.jpg
04 Shull Mtn from Rock Pass.jpg
05 Mt Ballard.jpg
06 Tower Mtn E of Methow Pass.jpg
07 The Needles NE of Granite Pass.jpg
08 Lake Chelan from Rainbow Crk Trail.jpg
09 Lake Chelan from McGregor Mtn Trail.jpg
10 Glacier Peak from McGregor Mtn Trail.jpg
11 View North from McGregor Mountain.jpg
12 McGregor Mountain.jpg

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 10:12 pm
by Wandering Daisy
This will date me, but I hiked and climbed in the Cascades before the North Cascades Highway was built/completed. Climbed Mt. St Helens before it blew its top. Nice photo of Glacier Peak, which I climbed in late 1960's. I was considering doing some hiking on the PCT in Washington this summer but decided not to. Sounds like that may have been a good decision, although the weather was not the reason I opted out for this summer. I regularly read the PCT hikers trail journals so got a feel of what it was like.

Here are some poor quality old photos of Glacier Peak

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 10:20 pm
by Wandering Daisy
The road was not yet paved and this was in the Spring - a group of us at UW hiked up there to see the Early Winter Spires
02_Early Winter Spires.jpg

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Wed Dec 18, 2019 11:11 pm
by Lumbergh21
Wow, looking forward to the rest of this. The Washington Cascades interest me as well. I was actually staring at my leave balance at work today and wondering if I could talk my wife into letting me take six weeks to hike the Washington section of the PCT in 2020. Your tales of cloud and rain have not dampened my spirits, not given the pictures you posted.

Re: TR: Washington PCT with Enhancements 6/22-8/8 2019

Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2019 6:35 am
by The Other Tom
Wow! That section of the Cascades is certainly epic. Thanks for posting